The Irish Council of Civil Liberties has joined with similar bodies worldwide in stating that the NSA action violates human rights, and they are supporting an investigation into the activities by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The news that the Government had been in touch with the US was contained in a written response from the department to a question from Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith last July. It was unclear if the department had received a response from the US.
The written reply from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, said: “While Ireland is not one of the member states identified in the media reports to date, the Government’s concerns have been conveyed bilaterally in contacts with the US embassy in Dublin. We look forward to clarification being provided in response to the EU’s request.”
Further information that emerged this week includes that US embassies in 19 EU countries were hubs gathering intelligence, but the list apparently does not include Dublin.
Duncan Campbell, a surveillance expert who revealed the presence of the spying programme Echelon said: “I would not expect any US ops in Dublin. Britain bugs Ireland from top to bottom for the Five Eyes.”
Mr Campbell said this has been going on for decades, as illustrated in the case taken to the Court of Human Rights by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties and the British Liberty body, in which the court found against Britain in 2008.
Britain is a key player in the US spy network and part of the “Five Eyes’ with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. According to the latest revelations from the Edward Snowden material, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters has an even larger operation than the NSA.
While in the past Britain depended on capturing Irish information from Telecom via a microwave phone-tap tower in the grounds of a uranium enrichment plant at Capenhurst, Ireland was later covered by the Echelon operation that involved the Five Eyes in collecting information through satellites and ground stations as revealed by an investigation by the European Parliament in 1999.
They found that the NSA had organised a body called ILETS, the International Law Enforcement Telecommunications Seminar, to convince other countries to join with them in collecting intelligence data from the fledgling digital industry, without the necessary parliamentary oversight. There were four meetings of ILETS, three of which Ireland attended. Dublin hosted one in 1997.
The technology has moved on since then and now the more than 200 fibre optic cables taking information around the world have been tapped into in the Tempora operation that involves the NSA and GCHQ. Almost all cables that feed Ireland pass through Britain, where all telecom companies under the terms of their licences are obliged to allow them access, according to reports in The Guardian.
Currently, a group of members of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee is in Washington as is a group of parliamentarians and experts from Germany to meet US administration and NSA representatives to discuss the reports.
This follows revelations that the US had 34 leaders under surveillance, including Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, and that they had been scooping up all phone and internet data from citizens of many EU countries for some time.
The issue was showing signs of becoming very divisive however, as Germany was forced to deny claims from Washington that their US embassy was also tapping phones and electronic data.